Unfolding the Shepherdess: A Revision of Pastoral

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


I started to look for shepherdesses in early modern pastoral—that is, characters called shepherdesses—when one made a belated appearance in Caroline reprintings of an Elizabethan romance, Robert Greene’s Pandosto. In Greene’s original text, ca. 1585, Fawnia, the lost Bohemian princess, is consistently called a shepherd like the Sicilian country man who adopted her.1 So, for instance, she interpolates herself to Dorastus, the prince of Sicily: “Fawnia, thou art a shepherd, daughter to poor Porrus” (p. 182). Even after Dorastus, too, “becomes a shepherd” to woo her, she insists, “I dare not say, Dorastus, I love thee, because I am a shepherd” (pp. 185, 188). Fawnia’s self-description—”shepherd” without “-ess”—marks her social status, but not, as we might expect, her gender. Then, in the tenth extant edition of the romance, dated 1632 (STC 12291), the noun is varied. The narrator reports Dorastus’s “calling to mind, that Fawnia was a Shepheardesse” (sig. D3V); then, the prince convinces himself that she is “borne to be a Shepheardesse, but worthy to be a Goddesse” (sig. D4). While the prince’s emendation chimes with “goddess,” the narrator’s has no rhetorical motivation. Throughout this 1632 edition, Fawnia still call herself a “shepherd,” as though the gendered form is not in her rustic vocabulary.2 By the twelfth edition of 1636 (STC 12292), the change is consistent: Fawnia is now a “shepherdess” throughout the romance, even in her own rhetorical set pieces, as though no one, even the simplest of country girls, would call a woman a “shepherd.”
Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationProse Fiction and Early Modern Sexualities in England, 1570–1640
EditorsConstance C. Relihan, Goran V. Stanivukovic
Place of PublicationNew York
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
ISBN (Electronic)978-1-137-09177-2
ISBN (Print)978-1-349-73216-6
StatePublished - 2003

Publication series

NameEarly Modern Cultural Studies


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